Hello loyal Sorry State followers and thank you for clicking on our newsletter. We appreciate you spending time with us. This week we are publishing the newsletter on November 11th, which is of course Veterans Day here in America and Remembrance Day in the UK. Before I go any further, let’s honor and remember those that served, fought and died for their countries and our freedoms. No need to add any additional political opinion here although I am sure those veterans that fought against Imperial oppression and fascist ideology and died for it are spinning in their graves at the sight of our now domestic terrorists and the disgusting behavior of the right wing. And I said no politics. Damn. Oh well, still fuck you to all Trumpers, Republicans, crazy Christians and science deniers. You all shame the memory of our vets.
Okay, moving on. Shall we talk about music and records instead? This week I don’t have a “staff pick” per se but wanted to indulge myself to sing the praises of one of my all-time favorite singers and artists, the late, great Miss Sarah Vaughan. The divine one to her world of fans, “Sassy” to those that knew and played with her. Hopefully I don’t need to go into too much detail about her and her career, do I? You know who she is right? She’s a jazz legend whose career lasted close to fifty years, beginning when she won a talent contest in 1942 at the famed Apollo Theatre aged 18. On the back of that winning performance, she was invited back that same year to open for Ella Fitzgerald and never looked back. She worked with almost every notable jazz icon there was, putting her time in as a big band singer and playing all the jazz spots in New York and other major cities across the country. By the late 1940s and going into the 1950s, she was a bona fide star and scoring hit records. Her discography is huge. She recorded for over a dozen labels including Atlantic, Columbia, EmArcy, Mainstream, Mercury, Roulette and Pablo. Her repertoire ranged from swinging big band numbers to intimate jazz trio material. She sang with a full orchestra on some records and rock bands on others and tried her hand at many different styles but always keeping her identity and staying classy and sassy. You can hit this link here to visit her Wikipedia page for a fuller career run down.
There is a very good reason for me personally as to why I love her so much. You see, I was fortunate to have met her not long before her passing in 1991. I had just begun my years working on cruise ships. It was early 1989 and Miss Vaughan was taking a cruise on the ship I was working on. I was assigned to be her server for the week. She ate mostly alone, but was joined by her assistant occasionally. She wasn’t performing on the ship, although even then she was still performing. Sadly, however, at this time she was becoming sick and later that same year was diagnosed with lung cancer whilst working a series of dates at New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club. Those dates were to be her final performances.
At the time I was her server, I was just 20 years old and although I had heard her name, I admit to not knowing her music that well. My appreciation for jazz was already in place then, but I hadn’t got much into the vocalists at that point. Meeting her changed that. Whilst attending to her I didn’t get too many long conversations with her, but I did ask her some questions about music and her career. I think I asked her what her favorite album was, and she laughed and said there were too many to include, but I remember her saying that she liked the live ones the most and that performing before an audience was where the real magic happened. That next stop in port, I visited the music store and bought a bunch of her albums on CD. One was a live album recorded at Mr. Kelly’s, a jazz club in Chicago in 1957. That Japanese import CD has stayed with me ever since, although I own the vinyl record now. The CD includes twenty songs recorded over the three nights of recording in August 1957, whereas the LP came out with just nine songs. I must have listened to this album hundreds of times. It’s so good. Sarah Vaughan backed by a trio in an intimate club. The band consisted of Jimmy Jones on piano, Richard Davis on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Those musicians and Sarah were in their absolute prime then, and the performance is sublime. The audience then and us after the fact are treated to pure class and even a little comedy as Sarah messes up the words to Willow Weep For Me and ad-libs the lyrics admitting her mistake. There is also a moment when a mic or music stand falls over. It all adds to the “live” aspect of the recording and only increases the charm and makes the listener feel they are right there in the club. She does a nice version of How High The Moon also with comedy ad-libs that I did dig and scats like Ella on it. That the original release was only nine tracks, I can’t help feeling the world was cheated somehow. It would have made an awesome double album. Thankfully all the performances are on the digital format.
After the news of her death in 1991, I felt especially privileged to have been in her presence and to have had those moments with her. As the years went on my love for her went from strength to strength as too did my appreciation for her jazz peers like Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Whenever I see one of her records I don’t have, I pick it up. Honestly, for years they weren’t hard to find or expensive although nowadays you may have to spend a bit more for nice original copies. Still, there are plenty out there and you should just dive in. Any opportunity to hear a real vocalist at work is never a lost one. Forget all the pop rubbish that passes for singing these days and check out the real deal. Amy Winehouse knew.
I like the albums she cut in the late sixties on Mainstream and Roulette too. There are some good funky moments on them. The ones she did on Pablo in the seventies are good also, again some funky and groovy moments on them and particularly a Brazilian influence. Just like lots of other singers, she was blessed to work with Quincy Jones and the combination of their two talents makes for some good listening on several albums they cut together.
One other album that I visit frequently by her is called, aptly, The Divine One that came out in 1961 on the Roulette label. That’s a great one and if you see it, pick it up. It’s a great example of her style and is arranged by Jimmy Jones who played piano on the Mr. Kelly’s recordings. The tune Trouble Is A Man from that set is a fine performance.
I could go on highlighting other great performances but should finish up here. Perhaps you have your own favorites, and if you are just discovering her, then I am sure you will find some. On Worldy this week Matt and I did an autumn show and kicked things off with Sarah Vaughan doing a song called Trees from a 1960 album called Dreamy, also on Roulette. It fitted the theme and vibe of the show so well and I was thrilled to play a tune of hers on the show. Hit the link for the full show if you are interested.
Alright, that’s my time. Thanks for reading. Go listen to music and we’ll see you next time.
Peace and love- Dom.